Thursday, July 18, 2019

PREVIEW: Seuss and Theriault's first Cup starts with Rick Ware Racing among Loudon storylines

Austin Theriault's first Cup ride with Rick Ware Racing
Saturday, July 20, 2019
XFINITY Race 18 of 33
Roxor 200 at New Hampshire
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Jeff Green

There are 41 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning three teams will fail to qualify for Saturday’s race in Loudon.

RETURNING: #12-Penske Racing
Paul Menard seeks his second XFINITY start of the season and first since his 4th-place showing in Michigan in June. He’ll drive the returning #12 team from the Penske stables, which last ran at Chicagoland during Joey Logano’s runner-up finish.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
The preliminary entry list showed no driver listed for Carl Long’s #13 team in place of John Jackson, who ran 31st last week in Kentucky. Driving the car this week is Carl Long himself, eyeing his first series start of 2019.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-JD Motorsports
Tyler Matthews returns for the first time since Iowa, where he ran a season-best 20th, and eyes his third XFINITY start of the year in Johnny Davis’ #15 Chevrolet. Matthews takes the place of Landon Cassill, who will focus on Sunday’s Cup race with StarCom Racing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #17-Rick Ware Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
As with MBM’s #13, there was no driver listed for Rick Ware’s #17 Chevrolet on the preliminary list, following Camden Murphy’s 33rd-place finish at Kentucky. Murphy then tweeted on Tuesday that he would be driving the #74 this Saturday, taking over for Mike Harmon, 27th in Kentucky. Driving the #17 this week is Bayley Currey, who ran Rick Ware's Cup car last Saturday. Currey seeks his 8th XFINITY start of the year and first since Michigan, when he drove Ware's car to a 33rd-place finish.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
Harrison Burton will make his third XFINITY start of the season and first since a 4th-place showing in Iowa, again driving with DEX Imaging as sponsor of Joe Gibbs’ #18 Toyota. He takes the place of Riley Herbst, who turned in an 11th-place finish in Kentucky.

RETURNING: #21-Richard Childress Racing
RCR will bring back the #21 team for the first time since Daytona, where Joe Graf, Jr. finished 23rd under the lights. Driving this time is a returning Kaz Grala, who last ran at Dover with a 14th-place finish. Ice cream company HotScream returns as sponsor for Grala, who ran 14th in this race last year for start-up Fury Race Cars LLC.

As Jeff Green now recovers from his rotator cuff surgery earlier this week, cutting short his 2019 campaign behind the wheel, C.J. McLaughlin will seek his XFINITY Series debut. McLaughlin has made four ARCA Menards Series starts, most recently a season-best 10th at Michigan, and made his national series debut at Iowa’s Truck Series race, where he ran 23rd for Reaume Brothers Racing. To ensure McLaughlin qualifies, he has swapped rides with flagship driver Ryan Sieg, putting Sieg in the #93 and McLaughlin in the #39.

RETURNING: #68-Brandonbilt Motorsports
For just the second time this year, Brandonbilt Motorsports will field a second car, the same team which debuted with a 20th-place finish at Charlotte. Unlike at Charlotte, Brandon Brown will not run the second team, and is still the listed driver of his familiar #86. The preliminary entry list did not have a driver named for the #68, but it has since gone to Dillon Bassett, who previously joined his brother Ronnie Jr. driving for DGM Racing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Landon Cassill once again climbs aboard Morgan Shepherd's #89 to get it qualified into the race.

Swapped out of the ride in his most recent entries, Alex Labbe is again the listed driver of Mario Gosselin’s #90 Chevrolet, and again seeks his first series start since a 25th-place showing in Talladega. Labbe finished 23rd in this race last year, his lone XFINITY start here. He takes the place of Ronnie Bassett, Jr., 29th at Kentucky after a vibration caused by a tire failure.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Tommy Joe Martins returns to B.J. McLeod’s third team this week, taking the place of Jairo Avila, Jr., last the previous Friday in Kentucky. Martins and sponsor Diamond Gusset Jeans seek their ninth series start of the season, a year where his best finish was an 18th at Michigan. His best finish in two prior Loudon starts was a 20th in this race last summer.

CUP INVADERS: #12-Paul Menard

Sunday, July 21, 2019
CUP Race 20 of 36
Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Landon Cassill

There are just 37 drivers entered in Sunday’s main event – one more car than last week, but the fifteenth short field in twenty races this season. This ties last summer’s race for the fewest starters ever in a Cup race at Loudon.

RETURNING: #27-Premium Motorsports
Reed Sorenson and the second Premium Motorsports entry rejoin the Cup tour this Sunday as the lone “open” car in the field. We last saw this car in Daytona two weeks ago, where a litany of mechanical issues left Ross Chastain several laps off the pace. Sorenson has 17 Cup starts at Loudon on his resume with a best finish of 6th in 2008, driving for Chip Ganassi Racing.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware Racing will give two drivers their first-ever chances to start a Cup Series race. Leading the contingent is Andy Seuss, who takes over for Bayley Currey in the flagship #51 Ford. Currey moves to Ware's XFINITY car (see above). The New Hampshire-born Seuss has been racing modifieds since 2006, and has amassed 22 wins. He also finished 13th in his lone K&N Pro Series East race here two years ago. Readers of this site may recall that name from his lone Truck Series start at Charlotte in 2016. Driving for Jim Rosenblum, Seuss started last and finished there after an early crash. Curiously, when qualifying was washed out that weekend, one of the trucks he bumped was driven by Austin Theirault, who is his teammate this Sunday (see below).

DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Rick Ware Racing
As announced on June 29, Austin Theriault will make his Cup Series debut this Sunday, taking over for B.J. McLeod in the second Rick Ware Racing entry. Theriault, sponsored by Bangor Savings Bank, is the 2017 ARCA Menards Series Champion and has a combined nineteen starts in the XFINITY and Truck Series. His best NASCAR finish at the Loudon track came in 2015, when he ran 8th in the Truck Series race for Brad Keselowski Racing.

Saturday, July 27, 2019
TRUCKS Race 14 of 23
Gander RV 150 at Pocono
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Bayley Currey

The Truck Series is off this week and rejoins the Cup Series next Saturday in Pocono.

Today in LASTCAR history (July 18, 1987): John Linville finished last at the South Boston Speedway when his #08 Reedy Racing Pontiac broke the rear end after 7 laps of the Coors 200. The finish, the eighth of Linville’s career, broke a tie with Jimmy Lawson for the most last-place finishes in XFINITY Series history. Linville would hold the record until September 19, 1992, when Ed Berrier scored the 11th last-place run of his own career at Dover.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

ARCA: Alex Clubb and Wayne Peterson Racing give Dodge an ever-more-rare last-place finish

Tim Richmond driving the
Wayne Peterson Racing Dodge earlier this year.
PHOTO: @Arcafan06
By William Soquet Guest Contributor,
ARCA Menards Series

Alex Clubb finished last for the first time in his ARCA Menards Series career in Saturday night’s Menards 250 presented by MatrixCare at Elko Speedway when his #0 Dodge retired with brake problems after 14 of 250 laps. The finish came in his 10th series start.

One of the more interesting men one will find on the ARCA Menards Series circuit, Alex Clubb leads a busy life. He is the owner of A. Clubb Lawn Care in his hometown of Morris, Illinois, and turned an interest in politics following the 2016 election cycle toward winning a seat on the city council. On top of this, Clubb is a racer like many one will find at their local short tracks on weekends – he funds his racing through his business, and it is him, his father and a cousin that run the operation. Clubb was also, for a time, a local short tracker, shining at Grundy County Speedway. He made his ARCA debut in 2015 for the now-defunct Carter 2 Motorsports, running three events in the back half of the season. After the demise of that team, Clubb returned to the series at DuQuoin in 2017 and then Springfield, DuQuoin and Salem in 2018 with his own equipment. Tentative plans for 2019 included both Salem races, Toledo, Madison and the two dirt tracks. While the first two of those happened, engine problems sidelined the team for Madison, though they still made the trek up to serve as the pit crew for fellow independent Eric Caudell. Clubb teamed up with Wayne Peterson Racing for this week’s race at Elko, driving a Dodge. Dodge sightings, like a year ago in the XFINITY Series, are becoming rarer and rarer, with the old-style bodies only eligible for use at tracks three-quarters of a mile and under and not eligible at all next year.

Twenty teams made the trek to Minnesota for Saturday night’s race. Wayne Peterson Racing entered two cars, with a familiar driver behind the wheel of one and a familiar face in a different way behind the wheel of the other. Team development driver Tim Richmond was behind the wheel of a Ford, and Clubb piloted the team’s trademark short track Dodge. That wasn’t the only Dodge in the field, however - Eric Caudell also busted out an old Dodge as the number of races that teams are eligible to use Dodge chassis winds down. Mike Basham continued to make the rounds of established ARCA teams this year, driving Andy Hillenburg’s #11 entry while Richard Doheny continued his run in the #1 car this year. Dale Shearer returned to Kimmel Raing’s #69 car, and Hailie Deegan continued her partial schedule in Venturini Motorsport’s #55 car. Win-Tron Racing entered for the first time this year with a driver not racing for points in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Howie DiSavino III, a teenage late model racer from Chesterfield, Virginia, signed on to test at Hickory and drive at Elko for the team.

In practice, Christian Eckes ran 51 laps and led the charts with a lap of 14.524 seconds. On the opposite side of the spectrum was Richmond, who ran only four laps in practice and clocked in last out of the 20 cars with a lap of 16.998 seconds. In qualifying, it was much of the same story, with Eckes on top of the board and Richmond, who did not complete a lap, on bottom.

Richmond started shotgun on the field and stayed there until Lap 15, when Clubb went behind the wall. Clubb, meanwhile, had advanced from his starting position of 15th up to 14th, passing Eric Caudell. Brad Smith went behind the wall after 33 laps, and Doheny retired after 39 laps as a result of crash damage, although no caution was ever thrown regarding an incident he was in. Mike Basham and Tim Richmond completed the Bottom Five, both also citing mechanical reasons.

20) #0-Alex Clubb / 14 laps / brakes
19) #48-Brad Smith / 33 laps / suspension
18) #1-Richard Doheny / 39 laps / crash
17) #11-Mike Basham / 57 laps / overheating
16) #06-Tim Richmond / 100 laps / overheating

1st) Ford (6)
2nd) Toyota (4)
3rd) Chevrolet (2)
4th) Dodge (1)

1st) Brad Smith Motorsports, Fast Track Racing, Kimmel Racing, Venturini Motorsports, Wayne Peterson Racing (2)
2nd) KBR Development, Mullins Racing, Our Motorsports (1)


Sunday, July 14, 2019

CUP: B.J. McLeod sets new laps completed record for a Kentucky last-place finisher

B.J. McLeod picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at the Kentucky Speedway when his #52 Jacob Companies Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after 110 of 269 laps.

The finish, which came in McLeod’s 33rd series start, was his second of the season and first since Dover, eight races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 28th for the #52, the 37th from electrical issues, and the 766th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 54th for the #52, the 124th from electrical woes, and the 1,671st for Chevrolet.

With the finish, McLeod jumps to third in the 2019 LASTCAR Cup Series rankings, joining a tight battle for second overall between Cody Ware and Kyle Larson. McLeod trails Ware on a bottom-five tiebreaker, 9-5. Michael McDowell remains the leader as the only three-time last-place finisher this season.

McLeod has remained busy between all three of NASCAR’s top divisions, both as a car owner of a three-car XFINITY team (two of them involved in Jairo Avila, Jr.’s short night on Friday), and as a driver. He’s been behind the wheel of Beaver Motorsports’ #1 in the Truck Series, finishing 30th at Chicagoland, and other than a one-off for his XFINITY effort has run all but one of this year’s XFINITY races with JD Motorsports. His best finish of the year in the second-tier series came at Pocono, where he ran 17th.

Between Dover and Saturday’s race, McLeod had also made three more Cup starts at Charlotte, Chicagoland, and Daytona, all for Rick Ware Racing. It was at Charlotte that McLeod debuted Ware’s new third “open” team, the #53 Chevrolet, one of three that paint scheme designer and military veteran David Marrero designed for the team to resemble famous aircraft. Both of McLeod’s best finishes on the Cup side have so far come at Daytona, where he ran 19th after a pit road incident in the Daytona 500, then 28th in last week’s shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400.

At Kentucky, McLeod would drive Rick Ware’s #52 team on the Cup side, sharing sponsorship from Jacob Companies with teammate Bayley Currey in the #51 Ford. He would also run the XFINITY race for JD Motorsports, but for the first time this season in the #4 previously campaigned by Ross Chastain before he declared for Truck Series points (and then nearly finished last at Daytona with Landon Cassill before A.J. Allmendinger's disqualification).

On the XFINITY side, McLeod ran 19th and 27th in practice, then finished a solid 20th with sponsorship from Ken Houston Electric. In Cup, McLeod ranked 34th in opening practice and was one of three drivers who didn’t turn a lap in Happy Hour. He originally qualified 35th for the main event with the second-slowest time of 174.396mph (30.964 seconds), besting only Daytona winners Spire Motorsports, who saw Quin Houff return to drive. The #77 carried a white-and-blue paint scheme for the race with sponsorship from, and a Race Winner sticker on the roof rail commemorating Justin Haley’s win the week before. McLeod then moved to 34th for race day after both Houff and the #6 Acorns Ford of Ryan Newman failed pre-race inspection, disallowing their times. McLeod’s speed then became the slowest official lap of record. With only 36 Chartered entries in the field, all entrants qualified for the race.

When the race started, the penalized Newman and Houff started in the final row. Newman, running the low lane, moved ahead of Houff into Turn 1, then drove past McLeod in short order. By Turn 3 of the first lap, Houff was closing on McLeod and attempted a pass to the inside. McLeod held him off, but they were side by side again coming to complete Lap 2. McLeod held him off once again, and this time pulled away by open track. On the 19th go-round, polesitter Daniel Suarez caught and passed Houff, putting him one lap down. Houff then caught and passed McLeod by Lap 28, dropping the #52 back to last.

At the time of Houff’s pass on McLeod, word came during the broadcast that Brad Keselowski’s #2 Miller Lite Ford had a possible broken valve spring. With all 36 cars still running, this raised the possibility of Keselowski taking his first last-place finish in his 360th start, one week after narrowly averting it in Daytona. While Keselowski never contended for the win, he did manage to finish just one lap down in 20th.

Meanwhile, McLeod had again passed Houff, who dropped three laps down by the first caution on Lap 48 for debris from Chase Elliott’s #9 Mountain Dew DEWnited States Chevrolet. On the Lap 60 restart from a second caution for Corey LaJoie’s spin in the #32 Keen Parts / Ford, McLeod and Houff were again side-by-side for position, each of them two laps back. The two pitted together on Lap 67 with McLeod beating Houff off pit road to put the #77 back to last. Houff passed McLeod on Lap 71, and McLeod said the #77 chased him into the wall to get by. On the next round of pit stops, Houff this time beat McLeod off pit road as the #52 had a long stop.

On Lap 102, Bayley Currey, McLeod’s teammate in the #51, took over last for the first time as he fell three laps down. By Lap 116, however, McLeod was the first car in the garage area, steering his Chevrolet into his stall. The driver reported the car dropped a valve or a valve spring, and said when he shut it off it sounded like the car “had a dead cylinder.” Not wanting to blow the engine, he shut off the car and pulled behind the wall. On Lap 126, well and truly in last, McLeod said the issue was only in the top of the engine and not the bottom. McLeod said “Thanks for the effort, you had me a good car here,” and on Lap 130, his car was unavailable on RaceView. NBC indicated McLeod was out around this time.

McLeod was the only driver to fail to finish Saturday’s race. Finishing 35th was Austin Dillon, who finished third in Stage 2 only to lose high gear in his #3 AAA “We Know Cars and Drivers” Chevrolet and lose 31 laps by the checkered flag. Houff ended up 35th, nine laps down to race winner Kurt Busch. Rounding out the group were McLeod’s teammate Currey and Landon Cassill in the #00 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet, who both spun into the Turn 2 wall on Lap 63. Both continued on to finish seven and six laps down, respectively.

*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for both McLeod and the #52 at Kentucky.
*The 110 laps turned by McLeod are the most by a Cup Series last-placer at Kentucky, besting Alex Bowman’s record of 108 just last year.

36) #52-B.J. McLeod / 110 laps / electrical
35) #3-Austin Dillon / 238 laps / running
34) #77-Quin Houff / 260 laps / running
33) #51-Bayley Currey / 262 laps / running
32) #00-Landon Cassill / 263 laps / running

1st) Rick Ware Racing (6)
2nd) Front Row Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (3)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing (2)
4th) Germain Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Childress Racing, Spire Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Ford (7)
3rd) Toyota (2)


XFINITY: Jairo Avila, Jr. scores first last-place finish, underfunded drivers play “cat and mouse” for position in Kentucky

Jairo “JA” Avila, Jr. picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Alsco 300 at the Kentucky Speedway when his #99 Art General Contractors Chevrolet crashed hard after 3 of 200 laps.

The finish came in Avila’s fourth series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 13th for the #99, the 325th from a crash, and the 529th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 34th for the #99, the 1,185th from a crash, and the 1,670th for Chevrolet.

Born in Los Angeles, the 24-year-old Avila is midway through his second part-time season in the XFINITY Series. He made his stock car debut five years ago, when he ran a limited schedule in the K&N Pro Series West. He finished 7th in his debut at the quarter-mile State Line Speedway in Idaho, his first of four Top Tens in just five races. The next year in 2015, he finished 16th in his ARCA Menards Series debut at Pocono, then a year after ran 23rd in his first K&N Pro Series East race at New Smyrna. Two seasons later, Avila joined B.J. McLeod’s XFINITY Series team, skipping the Truck Series altogether. The jump paid off with a 20th in his debut at Bristol, then an 18th in Kansas.

This year, McLeod has expanded his team to three full-time entries, bringing his partial #99 Chevrolet up to join the existing full-season efforts with the #5 (formerly #8 before a number swap deal with JR Motorsports) and the flagship #78. While the other two teams would see the same driver run each race – Matt Mills in the #5 and Vinnie Miller in the #78 – the #99 would swap hands all season. Coming into Kentucky, the car had been driven by D.J. Kennington, Tommy Joe Martins, Cody Ware, Todd Peck, Ryan Ellis, Stefan Parsons, Avila, and McLeod. Just last week, Parsons earned the team’s season-best finish with a 12th-place run in Daytona, following Mills and Miller across the finish line in a 10th-11th-12th team finish.

Avila, who handed the #99 its only DNQ of the year in Charlotte, would return to the #99 at Kentucky. His only previous start this year came in Las Vegas, where he finished a respectable 25th, eight laps down. Art General Contractors, his sponsor since late last season, would rejoin the effort with logos on the hood and lower quarter-panels. Avila’s name, shortened to “JA JUNIOR,” was on the roof rails.

Avila began the Kentucky weekend as one of four drivers who didn’t turn a lap in opening practice, then turned 20 circuits in Happy Hour to rank 31st of the 32 who took time, besting only owner-driver Mike Harmon. He then qualified 32nd on Friday, putting in a speed of 168.972mph (31.958 seconds). With exactly 38 drivers entered for as many spots, no drivers were sent home.

Originally, showed Camden Murphy with the 38th starting spot based on the rank in Owner Points of Rick Ware Racing’s #17 Chevrolet, which didn’t qualify at Texas, withdrew at Iowa and wasn’t entered in last Friday’s race at Daytona. By race day, the spot belonged to previous 37th-place starter John Jackson, returning to Carl Long’s #13 Toyota. Murphy had been moved up to 34th.

This wasn’t the only change in the rear of the field. All-time last-place leader Jeff Green, making his final XFINITY start of the season before upcoming rotator cuff surgery, was entered in RSS Racing’s #93 Chevrolet with sponsorship from By opening practice, Green had swapped rides with teammate Josh Bilicki, putting Green in RSS’ unsponsored #38. Green out-qualified 25th-place Bilicki with the 21st-best time.

Prior to the start, both Matt Mills and John Jackson came down pit road for unscheduled stops. Out on the track, Jeff Green and his crew talked over who they thought would draw the first caution. “I’m gonna go with 42,” said Green, referring to Chad Finchum. He then said, “Those fast cats up front could be the first caution.”

On the break, Jackson retained the last spot with Murphy and Shepherd in front of him. Jackson remained last at the end of the first lap, 8.571 seconds back, and was 10.878 seconds back after three. “Some of these cats up here pretty sketchy looking,” said Green’s spotter after Matt Mills raced Green hard, forcing him to let him by. Moments later, Avila clobbered the wall, then came down pit road with heavy damage. The right side was flattened, and the rear panel dangled behind the Chevrolet like a flag, clearly out of the race. “99 killed it,” said Green’s spotter. “I mean, he tried to knock the wall down.” The one available replay into Turn 3 showed Avila banged doors with another car, likely teammate Vinnie Miller in the #78 JW Transport Chevrolet. The contact sent Avila skating up the track, where he smashed the outside wall nearly flush with the passenger side. The wreck made Avila the first car one lap down and abruptly ended his night, also handing him his first Bottom Five of 2019.

Under the Avila caution, Green was asked if teammate Josh Bilicki’s car was smoking, but said it wasn’t. He also remarked his own car “drives so good,” unfortunate since prior to the start the team reminded him they would only run ten laps. It then became clear Green’s team was counting on more accidents to gain as many spots as possible, deciding to go another five after the restart. After 19 laps, the team said “Go ahead and bring it to us whenever you’re ready.” Green broke out of line, signaling to Morgan Shepherd’s #89 Visone RV Chevrolet to avoid a collision. As Green came down, Timmy Hill was two laps down in the #66 in 37th, where he’d finish after early electrical issues. “We’ll run a couple more here,” the crew said, sending Green back on the track to beat Hill. At that moment, Landon Cassill also slowed in the Johnny Davis-prepared #15 JD Motorsports Chevrolet, losing two laps and falling to 35th. Green pitted a second time, but again returned to action laps down when Cassill entered the garage. Cassill then returned to the track laps down himself, and ultimately climbed out of the Bottom Five to finish 26th, the last car under power. Finally, after 29 laps, Green pulled into the garage area, done for the day with a 36th-place finish. “I mean, I'm running 80, 90%, we're running so fast. Wish I could race it,” said Green. “We'll work on it for next year," said the crew. Green’s last transmission was a simple “Thank you.”

After Green’s exit, Josh Bilicki and other underfunded drivers continued their spirited battle of “cat and mouse,” each trying to outwit the other to gain the most spots. On Lap 56, Bilicki’s spotter updated his driver that Austin Cindric “may be done” after the #22 Mazak Ford backed into the wall in Turn 4. Trying to pass Cindric caused Bilicki to stay out longer than the team had planned, a risk since the crew didn’t have a fuel canister ready in the pits. As Cindric returned to competition, Bilicki stretched his fuel under caution, the team watching as Morgan Shepherd pulled his #89 into the garage, another spot gained. Shepherd ended up 34th, separated from 36th-place Green after Ray Black, Jr. burned the clutch on his #07 Isokern Fireplaces & Chimneys / Scuba Life Chevrolet.

The battle then turned to last-place starter John Jackson, who the Bilicki spotter said was “waiting on us” to pull into the garage. When Bilicki pitted, the crew managed to hustle up fuel and was told to “have a look as if something’s wrong.” This drew Jackson’s #13 to pit road along with Camden Murphy’s #17, but the ruse failed as both Jackson and Murphy returned to the track. The crew first told Bilicki to climb out, but then changed their minds once more when Ronnie Bassett, Jr.’s #90 Bassett Gutters & More Chevrolet slowed from what seemed to be a mechanical issue. Bilicki stayed in the car, even when it was reported Bassett had only cut a tire. Murphy’s #17 then turned down pit road with the hood up, then pulled behind the wall. Bilicki returned to the track, advised by NASCAR to use the same gate he entered, looking to gain the four laps needed to pass the #17. This he accomplished, dropping Murphy to 33rd. After 78 laps, Bilicki was called to the garage once more, and the crew said “I think we’re done done now,” then “Thanks guys, see you in Loudon.” Bilicki ended up 32nd with 71 laps complete. Not to be outdone, Jackson kept the #13 on track until three to go in the stage, besting Bilicki for 31st by 11 laps.

*This marked the first XFINITY Series last-place finish for the #99 since October 6, 2018, when Stephen Leicht’s B.J. McLeod Motorsports Chevrolet fell out with electrical issues after 13 laps of the Bar Harbor 200 at Dover. The number had never before trailed an XFINITY race at Kentucky.
*As of this writing, only twice has the last-place finisher of an XFINITY race at Kentucky completed more than 6 laps – September 23, 2017, when Jeff Green turned 16 laps, and the disqualification of Tim Sauter for unapproved rollbars after he turned 166 laps on June 16, 2001.

38) #99-Jairo Avila, Jr. / 3 laps / crash
37) #66-Timmy Hill / 18 laps / electrical
36) #38-Jeff Green / 25 laps / ignition
35) #07-Ray Black, Jr. / 39 laps / clutch
34) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 55 laps / overheating

1st) Motorsports Business Management (5)
2nd) RSS Racing (4)
3rd) DGM Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing (2)
4th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, JD Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Toyota (7)


TRUCKS: Kentucky sees two drivers of the NEMCO #87 finish first and last

Joe Nemechek picked up the 8th last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series career in Thursday’s Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 at the Kentucky Speedway when his #87 D.A.B. Constructors Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after 17 of 150 laps.

The finish, which came in Nemechek’s 65th series start, was his series-leading third of 2019, breaking a tie with Gus Dean for the LASTCAR Championship lead. It was his first since Charlotte, five races ago. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 10th for the #87, the 33rd from a vibration, and the 376th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 53rd for the #87, the 212nd from a vibration, and the 1,669th for Chevrolet.

The finish extended Nemechek's lead in the 2019 LASTCAR Truck Series Championship over Gus Dean and has put him in position for a title defense with ten races to go.

Nemechek’s last-place finish gained added significance on Thursday because of who took the checkered flag. Since his most recent last-place run in Charlotte, Nemechek had split time in the underfunded #87 with Tyler Ankrum, who saw a sponsorship deal fall through despite a season-best third-place finish in Texas for DGR-Crosley. Ankrum would drive the #87 at both Iowa, where he was the first truck out but averted a last-place finish after Ross Chastain’s disqualification, and at Gateway, where he ran 30th. Thanks to continued support from sponsor Railblaza, Ankrum reunited with DGR-Crosley at Chicagoland, where he finished 13th while Nemechek ran 28th. Ankrum then pulled off the victory on Thursday in just his 12th series start, leading 40 laps including the final two after race leader Brett Moffitt ran out of fuel.

Nemechek’s truck also showed speed in Kentucky, ranking 19th of 34 trucks in opening practice, 20th of 34 in Happy Hour, and qualified 18th with a speed of 177.369mph (30.445 seconds). The two trucks that missed the show belonged to owner-drivers Ray Ciccarelli, returning to action in his #49 CMI Motorsports Chevrolet and Norm Benning in the #6 H&H Transport Chevrolet. Ciccarelli was faster than three of the five drivers locked in on Owner Points. Jennifer Jo Cobb was originally listed as a DNQ until NASCAR revised the results. Cobb’s #10 Chevrolet started 31st.

Starting 32nd and last was Stewart Friesen, whose weekend took an early step backward after NASCAR confiscated his primary #52 Halmar International Chevrolet for being “unacceptable.” Bob Pockrass reported attention steered toward part of the floorboard of the truck’s passenger side which was too high. Friesen’s backup truck could only muster a speed of 164.479mph (32.831 seconds), slowest in the session. The Halmar team recovered in a big way, charging to Friesen’s sixth runner-up finish in the series and second in a row in this race.

Friesen incurred a redundant tail-end penalty at the start for his backup truck, but would not start in the final spot. Coming to the green, both Nemechek and teammate Camden Murphy in the #8 NEMCO Chevrolet dropped to the rear with Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #10 passing Murphy to the inside just seconds before green. Both Murphy and Green ran side by side as the field drew away from them in the first corner. With 30 to go in Stage 1, both NEMCO trucks had worked their way past Cobb, who that time by became the first to lose a lap. A trip to pit road ended up costing her another six circuits, putting her seven down with 20 to go, while Murphy and Nemechek ran 25th and 26th. Cobb went on to run at a reduced speed and ultimately passed Nemechek, who pulled behind the wall under green.

The 31st spot went to Austin Hill, whose #16 Toyota Tsusho Toyota pulled down pit road with seven to go in Stage 1 with a blown engine, ending his night. Both Jordan Anderson in the #3 / Knight Fire Protection Chevrolet and Spencer Boyd in the #20 Record Rack Chevrolet were collected in a Turn 1 tangle with Natalie Decker, leaving them 29th and 30th. For Anderson, it was his first Bottom Five of 2019. Murphy’s night in the #8 left him 28th after engine trouble under the ensuing caution.

In addition to Tyler Ankrum, several other underdogs enjoyed strong finishes in Kentucky.

Last week, Dylan Lupton returned to the Truck Series for the first time in three years and finished a strong 10th with a new third team from the DGR-Crosley effort. This week, driving the team’s #15, Lupton improved once more with his first series top-five finish, coming home 5th. This was Lupton’s first Top Five in a combined 43 starts across NASCAR’s top three series.

Austin Wayne Self came home 6th on Thursday in the #22 AM Technical Solutions / Go Texan Chevrolet, the second-best finish of his career behind a runner-up performance in the 2017 season opener at Daytona.

Spencer Davis reunited with the Rette Jones Racing team this week and promptly gave the team its first top-ten finish in just its sixth series start, coming home 8th in the #11 All Pro / Tower Sealants Toyota. It was one spot short of Davis’ own best finish in the series, when he ran 7th for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the 2018 Daytona opener.

Jeb Burton made his first Truck Series start of the season in Niece Motorsports’ #44 Alsco / State Water Heaters Chevrolet and finished 9th, his first top-ten finish in the series since 2014 at Texas.

Just outside the Top Ten in 11th came Tyler Hill, who picked up the best series finish for the start-up Hill Motorsports team. Tyler, who made just his third series start in a split campaign with brother Timmy Hill, overcame minor damage to the rear bumper of his #56 Southern Freight Services Chevrolet from an incident in opening practice.

Codie Rohrbaugh’s 14th-place finish was a big turnaround for his CR7 Motorsports team, which has either crashed or failed to qualify in all his previous 2019 attempts. Rohrbaugh’s #9 Grant County Mulch Chevrolet took the checkered flag as the first truck one lap down.

*Nemechek’s last-place finish ended a streak of three consecutive first-time last-place finishers in the Truck Series.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #87 in a Truck Series race at Kentucky.

32) #87-Joe Nemechek / 17 laps / vibration
31) #16-Austin Hill / 28 laps / engine
30) #3-Jordan Anderson / 41 laps / crash
29) #20-Spencer Boyd / 41 laps / crash
28) #8-Camden Murphy / 43 laps / crash

1st) NEMCO Motorsports (3)
2nd) Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing, Young’s Motorsports (2)
2nd) Copp Motorsports, DGR-Crosley, Niece Motorsports, Norm Benning Racing, Reaume Brothers Racing, ThorSport Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (11)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


Thursday, July 11, 2019

PREVIEW: As Jeff Green prepares for his final XFINITY start of 2019, Kentucky sees several drivers and teams return to action

Jeff Green at Darlington, 2017
PHOTO: Brock Beard

Thursday, July 11, 2019
TRUCKS Race 13 of 23
Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Tyler Matthews

There are 34 entries for 32 spots in Thursday’s return of the Truck Series, meaning two will miss the show.

MISSING: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
Jennifer Jo Cobb has not entered her second truck this week following Joey Gase’s 31st-place finish two weeks ago in Chicagoland. Gase will only run this Friday’s XFINITY race for Motorsports Business Management, looking to shake off a DNQ in Daytona.

MISSING: #1-Beaver Motorsports
B.J. McLeod is also not entered in Thursday’s race following his 30th-place finish in Chicagoland as team owner Mark Beaver has not filed an entry. McLeod will instead run double-duty in the XFINITY and Cup Series for JD Motorsports and Rick Ware Racing, respectively.

MISSING: #5-DGR-Crosley
Following his strong 10th-place finish at Chicagoland, Dylan Lupton has been moved from David Gilliland’s #5, which isn’t entered this week, to the #15, taking the place of 9th-place finisher Anthony Alfredo. Lupton’s only previous start at Kentucky in NASCAR’s top three series was an XFINITY race in 2015, where he finished 31st for the Townley family effort.

RETURNING: #9-CR7 Motorsports
Codie Rohrbaugh and the Grant County Mulch entry look to turn things around in 2019, a year that has seen them crash out of all three of their starts and fail to qualify at Daytona and Martinsville. The team last ran at Texas in June, where one of those wrecks left him 30th.

RETURNING: #11-Rette Jones Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Niece Motorsports
Two weeks after finishing 27th with Al Niece, Spencer Davis will reunite with Mark Rette’s #11 team for the first time since Martinsville, where he finished a season-best 20th. Taking Davis’ place in the Niece #44 is a returning Jeb Burton, who carries sponsorship from State Water Heaters and XFINITY race sponsor Alsco. Burton seeks his first Truck Series start of the year – his most recent came last fall at Homestead, where he ran 18th for All Out Motorsports.

MISSING: #25-Ted Minor Racing
Ted Minor is not entered following his team’s withdrawal in Chicagoland.

RETURNING: #30-On Point Motorsports
Brennan Poole is back in the Truck Series for the first time since an 11th-place finish at Iowa, his third consecutive finish of 11th or better. The team had been entered in Gateway, but withdrew, and did not enter Chicagoland.

MISSING: #32-Reaume Brothers Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #34-Reaume Brothers Racing
Team owner Josh Reaume scales back from three trucks to two this week, but retains drivers Mason Massey and Josh Bilicki, who move to the #33 and #34, respectively. Whitetail Smokeless Tobacco joins Bilicki as sponsor of the #34. Bumped out is Jesse Iwuji, 22nd in Chicagoland, who made his broadcasting debut with NBC Sports last week in Daytona.

RETURNING: #42-Chad Finley, Inc.
Chad Finley is back in the Truck Series for the first time since Iowa, where he finished 28th after rear end trouble on his #42 Chevrolet. He returns on Thursday with sponsorship from Auto Value Certified Service Centers and Strutm.

RETURNING: #49-CMI Motorsports
Welcome back Ray Ciccarelli, whose #49 team hasn’t run since Stefan Parsons ran a UNC Charlotte tribute during All-Star Weekend two months ago. Ciccarelli hasn’t driven since Dover in early May, where he ran 24th, and has never started a Truck Series race in Kentucky.

DRIVER CHANGE: #56-Hill Motorsports
Tyler Hill swaps in for brother Timmy this week in the #56 Southern Freight Services Chevrolet. It will be Tyler’s first series start since Iowa, where he ran 26th.

RETURNING: #68-Clay Greenfield Motorsports
Clay Greenfield is another owner-driver returning to action this week, having not run in the series since a 12th-place finish in the season opener in Daytona. Rackley Roofing, his sponsor in Florida, returns to back his #68 Chevrolet.


Friday, July 12, 2019
XFINITY Race 17 of 33
Alsco 300 at Kentucky
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Jeff Green

There are exactly 38 entries for as many spots in the XFINITY Series race, so all drivers will qualify.

DRIVER SWAP: #4-JD Motorsports
DRIVER SWAP: #15-JD Motorsports
B.J. McLeod and Landon Cassill swap rides this week with McLeod moving to the #4 Ken Houston Electric Chevrolet and Cassill in the yet-unsponsored #15.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Ryan Truex eyes his second XFINITY Series start of the season and first since his runner-up finish in Phoenix to Kyle Busch. He takes the controls of JR Motorsports’ #8 Chevrolet, which Creed steered to a 34th-place finish in Daytona following multiple crashes.

MISSING: #10-Kaulig Racing
MISSING: #16-Kaulig Racing
Kaulig Racing does not bring either of its part-time teams to Kentucky, leaving both A.J. Allmendinger and Ross Chastain out of Friday’s race. Chastain will instead focus on the Truck Series, where he continues his bid for a top-twenty points position in Al Niece’s #45 Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management
No driver was listed for Carl Long’s #13 on the preliminary list following Joe Nemechek’s 36th-place finish in Daytona. Taking Nemechek’s place this week is a returning John Jackson, whose most recent of six starts this year was a 31st-place showing at Pocono.

RETURNING: #17-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware brings his XFINITY car back to the track for the first time since Chicagoland, where Josh Bilicki was swapped in for Bayley Currey. As with the #13, no driver was originally listed, but Camden Murphy was added by Wednesday, setting the stage for a double-duty weekend with the Truck Series. Murphy’s only start with this team came in Pocono, where he ran 32nd.

MISSING: #21-Richard Childress Racing
RCR has not entered the #21 this week following Joe Graf, Jr.’s 23rd-place finish in Daytona.

MISSING: #25-ACG Motorsports
Chris Cockrum and the Jeff Spraker-owned ACG Motorsports team are also not among the entrants after they finished 19th in Daytona.

Jeff Green makes his final start of the season prior to surgery, and does so at his home track. Green moves from the #38 back to the #93, allowing for a returning Josh Bilicki in the #38. With seventeen races to go, Green remains the 2019 LASTCAR XFINITY Series leader on a bottom-five tiebreaker of 13-9 over Bilicki.

MISSING: #61-Hattori Racing Eneterprises
HRE continues to focus on the Truck Series this weekend following a disappointing DNQ for Austin Hill in Daytona.

MISSING: #81-XCI Racing
Jeffrey Earnhardt is also not entered following the XCI Racing team’s unexpected withdrawal in Daytona.

RETURNING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Rejoining the circuit is Morgan Shepherd, who took the Daytona weekend off after finishing 35th in Iowa and failing to qualify in Chicagoland. In 17 series starts at Kentucky, Shepherd’s best finish was 25th in 2009.

Mario Gosselin has brought back one of the Bassett boys this week as Ronnie Bassett, Jr. seeks his eighth XFINITY start of the season and first since a 30th-place showing in Chicagoland. Bassett and his sponsorship from Bassett Gutters and more take the place of Caesar Bacarella, who spun early at Daytona and ultimately finished 29th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Jairo Avila, Jr. steps in for Stefan Parsons following a sterling 12th-place finish in his series debut. Avila carries sponsorship from Art General Contractors, as he had in his only series start this year at Las Vegas, finishing 25th. Avila failed to qualify for his last attempt in Charlotte.

CUP INVADERS: #15-Landon Cassill

Saturday, July 13, 2019
CUP Race 19 of 36
Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Kentucky
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Alex Bowman

Only the 36 Chartered entries are competing in Saturday’s main event, down four cars from last Sunday in Daytona. This ties Phoenix, Martinsville, and Michigan for the shortest fields in 2019, and is the fourteenth short field in nineteen races this season.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
MISSING: #27-Premium Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
Justin Haley will not be running Saturday’s Cup race following his upset victory in the Coke Zero Sugar 400, and will instead focus on Friday’s XFINITY race with Kaulig Racing. Taking Haley’s place in the #77 is Quin Houff, who last week drove Premium Motorsports’ #15 to a 37th-place finish. Ross Chastain returns to the Premium #15, moving over from the team’s #27, which isn’t entered this week. Chastain finished 30th at Daytona.

DRIVER SWAP: #51-Rick Ware Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Rick Ware Racing
B.J. McLeod moves from Rick Ware’s #51 to the #52, making way for Bayley Currey in the #51. Currey’s eighth and most recent Cup start came in Chicagoland, where he ran 32nd. Not entered for the Ware team this week is J.J. Yeley, who ran a strong 12th last week in the #52.

MISSING: #53-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware also scales back from three cars to two, not entering the part-time #53 that Joey Gase drove to a 27th-place finish in Daytona.

MISSING: #62-Beard Motorsports
Mark Beard’s team remains focused on superspeedway racing, and has thus not entered Brendan Gaughan in Saturday’s race following a 19th-place finish in Daytona.

MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Parker Kligerman will also not be running Saturday after a 31st-place finish following the late crash in Daytona.

Today in LASTCAR history (July 11, 1998): Tony Stewart picked up the first last-place finish of his XFINITY Series career in the Myrtle Beach 250 at Myrtle Beach after his #44 Shell Oil / Small Soldiers Pontiac, fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, crashed in the fourth corner after 67 laps. The day would prove equally unlucky for Stewart the following year at New Hampshire when, as a rookie in the Cup Series, he ran out of fuel while leading with just two laps to go, handing the victory to Jeff Burton.

Monday, July 8, 2019

OPINION: Negative reaction to Justin Haley’s victory a sad commentary on NASCAR “gatekeeping”

The Spire Motorsports pit area at Sonoma.
PHOTO: Brock Beard
I’m not a fan of today’s outrage culture and the abrasive language it has created. But in the aftermath of Justin Haley’s win on Sunday, the term “gatekeeping” came to mind.

If the Urban Dictionary is to be believed, the act of “gatekeeping” means “when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.” This term seems appropriate for how some perceive NASCAR’s small teams and their place in today’s sport.

“Gatekeepers” have been with us for years. A decade ago, they were the ones telling us “start-and-park” teams were ruining the sport by “stealing” purse money from bigger teams or taking up starting spots for fully-funded efforts who failed to qualify. This overlooked clear examples of the practice throughout NASCAR history, from the “grocery getters” in 1992, widely regarded as the Cup Series’ best season, to the “field fillers” of 2004, the first year of Nextel’s profitable title sponsorship. Even further back, Larry Frank’s race winning car for the 1962 Southern 500 was once entered in a short track race without an engine. A crewman was instructed to ask for a push at the start, then pretend the car had simply broken down. In each case, the practice existed, but the sport still thrived.

The frequency of “start-and-parks” has always risen and fallen with the fortunes of the sport and the country at large. One of the ebb tides was in 2015, when the practice vanished from Cup. Even Phil Parsons Racing, once a LASTCAR regular, was going the full distance each week. But still, the same naysayers insisted a change needed to be made, and the current Charter system was introduced. 

Under the Charter system, the starting grid shrank from 43 cars to 40, 36 of them guaranteed to teams deemed “in good standing” by the self-appointed Race Team Alliance (RTA). Curiously, several of the 36 were once “start-and-parks” who grew their organizations that way. The remaining four spots were left to “open” teams who weren’t guaranteed starting positions and had to fight for an undisclosed fraction of the purse. This created a caste system in the field further separating the “haves” from the “have nots.”

The stated purpose of the Charter system was to provide NASCAR’s top teams an asset they could use to attract sponsorship while also protecting them from shutting down. To ensure this, teams would also be held to a “good standing” requirement, where they couldn’t be the lowest-ranked Charter teams for consecutive years. If they failed to do this, the team would lose their Charter. While not explicitly prohibiting “start-and-parks,” this made the practice unattractive as even lower-end teams had to watch their rank in points.

The plan has proved a failure on both counts. Several Chartered teams have closed well before the three-year mark: HScott Motorsports, BK Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing (which since attempted one race as an “open” team), and most recently, 2017 champions Furniture Row Racing. Top-flite rides from teams like Richard Childress Racing and Roush-Fenway Racing have faced the same struggle for sponsorship as “open” teams, unable to use their Charter to secure full-time backing.

The failure of the Charter system created a market where Charters could be leased or sold with no apparent regulations on how much they were worth. While this has created an opportunity for “open” teams to acquire a Charter such as StarCom Racing and Rick Ware Racing, such teams find themselves having to pay just to earn a larger piece of the purse. Both StarCom and Ware are among the few start-up teams that have sprung up since 2016 – countless others have been deterred completely. The result is entry lists that almost always come in at under 40 teams, making the need for guaranteed starting spots – and the Charters – unnecessary.

Enter Spire Motorsports, which sprang up after Furniture Row Racing closed its doors last season. Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents several Cup drivers, took out a loan to purchase the Charter with the intent of selling it to another buyer. Instead, Spire then decided to start a single-car team of their own. It was then revealed the Spire entry would be run as a third car from Jay Robinson’s team Premium Motorsports, running the team’s same black Chevrolets out of Robinson’s shop. In that time, the #77 hasn’t run much better than Robinson’s other two cars, finishing no better than 22nd and finishing last at Chicagoland with a track bar issue. The team’s only highlight prior to Sunday came at Talladega, where Justin Haley ran near the front before he was eliminated in a late crash not of his doing. While unspectacular, new Cup drivers like Haley, Quin Houff, and Garrett Smithley have earned valuable track time in their cars.

After Haley’s upset win in Sunday’s rain-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400, the same complaints about “start-and-parks” were ascribed to Spire. Some claimed the team was itself a “start-and-park” even though they had only three DNFs in 17 races, and all were due to crashes and legitimate part failures after running 100 laps or more. Others said Spire’s involvement representing drivers would be a conflict of interest for NASCAR, even though NASCAR approved the sale of the Charter, accepted their entries, and passed each of their cars through inspection. Still others claimed Spire was doing the bare minimum all year, never intending to improve their on-track performance. This is trivial compared to harrowing tales of J.D. Stacy and Angela’s Motorsports from the sport’s past, or the continuing mystery surrounding the missing Obaika Racing and NY Racing Team after each announced they would be running Cup this season. All of it reeks of the same “gatekeeping” as the “start-and-park” debate. It’s no longer enough that the team attempts to run the whole race – now they have to reach a minimum level of competitiveness to satisfy some people. And that arrogance is the very definition of the word.

Make no mistake - whether a “start-and-park” team or a start-up who just purchased a Charter, a team that obeys all NASCAR rules has earned the right to be out there. The sale or lease of a Charter is approved by NASCAR. Their cars have to pass multiple rounds of inspection and comply with decades of technical regulations. They have to reach the minimum requirements for track time, present a pit crew, participate in meetings. After that, the team need only comply with the rules of competition. They don’t need to run all the laps. If they can only run 20 laps, so be it. They don’t need to finish as well as the car is capable. So long as they reach minimum speed, fine. What a team does with the spot they have earned is their business, and theirs alone. For some teams, winning is exactly that. For others, it’s finishing 22nd with the car in one piece. That’s the way it is, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Try as you might, you can’t legislate away slow cars. There will always be underfunded teams, less experienced drivers, and just plain bad racing luck. Every car in the field could be a Hendrick, Penske, or Gibbs entry (which the Charter system seems to desire) and you will still see one team among them struggle more than the others. Also, you can’t legislate how quickly a team improves. Even Hendrick, Penske, and Gibbs only got where they are from hard work and continuing to learn from race to race. This is inherent to all forms of motorsports, all the way up to Formula One. Even the most hardcore F1 fans forget that the Hispania Racing Team existed. But what makes NASCAR special is small teams can still win, that circumstances can still work out where one finds their way to victory lane. It’s that hope, and the very real chance of it happening, that keeps them out there, and it should be what keeps fans watching.

And, really, what is so bad about underfunded teams being out there? What is lost by Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick taking on all challengers, then getting beat every now and then? They give each victory greater context, while writing equally interesting stories of their own.

We don’t know yet what Sunday’s win truly means for Spire Motorsports, and where the team goes from here. But they shouldn’t be second-guessed just because they aren’t contenders every week. That should be why we celebrate it.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

CUP: Crazy Daytona race overshadows Daniel Suarez’ first Cup Series last-place finish

PHOTO: @Daniel_SuarezG
Daniel Suarez picked up the 1st last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #41 Haas Automation Ford was collected in a multi-car accident after 83 of 127 laps.

The finish came in Suarez’ 90th series start. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 40th for the #41, the 584th from a crash, and the 693rd for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 56th for the #41, the 953rd for Ford, and the 1,184th from a crash.

This season, the 27-year-old Suarez remains one of NASCAR’s most unique talents. The 2013 runner-up in the NASCAR Toyota Series championship, Suarez won ten races in his native Mexico, then worked his way through the K&N Pro Series into NASCAR’s top three series. He made his Truck Series debut at Talladega in 2014, finishing 15th for Kevin Cywinski, and 19th in his first XFINITY race at Richmond with Joe Gibbs. From there came a Truck Series win at Phoenix, then three in XFINITY en route to a dominating championship season in 2016 with 19 Top Fives and 27 Top Tens in 33 starts.

The unexpected retirement of Carl Edwards opened the door for Suarez to make the jump to Cup in 2017, where he finished 20th in points with a best of 3rd at Watkins Glen. He also prevailed in a spirited battle during his first Monster Energy Open at Charlotte, snatching away the victory from Chase Elliott in the final three laps. While he enjoyed a career run at Pocono the next year, winning the pole and leading 29 laps before he finished runner-up to teammate Kyle Busch, his performance leveled off that year, and he missed the Playoffs. The subsequent closing of Furniture Row Racing sealed his fate, as he was released in favor of a rideless technical partner in Martin Truex, Jr.

This year, Suarez has found a new home at Stewart-Haas Racing, taking the place of Kurt Busch in the #41 Ford. Much like Joey Logano before him, the former Gibbs driver has shown measured improvement. He's also gained more camera time after a scuffle with Michael McDowell at Phoenix and has a larger fan base called "Daniel's Amigos." Suarez climbed into Playoff contention after he finished 10th in the sixth race at Martinsville and had stayed in the Top 16 in points every week since. But a disappointing 24th-place finish at Chicagoland threatened to bump him back out. He arrived in Florida 15th in the standings, just 18 points to the good. Through it all, Suarez had yet to finish last in any of his 89 Cup starts, third-most among active drivers behind Brad Keselowski (358) and Chase Elliott (130).

In practice, Suarez ran 22nd in the first session and 26th in Happy Hour. The persistent rains that would come to haunt the weekend washed out qualifying, and Suarez secured 15th on the grid based on points.

With 40 cars entered for exactly that many spots, last on the grid went to Joey Gase. Gase would drive the returning third car from Rick Ware Racing, the #53, with sponsorship from Connected Claim Services and Action Restoration. When the rain-postponed race was pushed to Sunday morning, Gase incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments, the same thing that sent to the rear 13th-place Kyle Larson in the #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet (who needed a new fuel probe, according to Bob Pockrass), 25th-place Matt DiBenedetto in the #95 Procore Toyota, 35th-place B.J. McLeod in the #51 Jacob Companies Chevrolet, 39th-place Brendan Gaughan in the #62 Beard Oil / South Point Chevrolet, and 34th-place starter Justin Haley, making just his third Cup start in Spire Motorsports’ #77 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet. William Byron also went to the rear after contact from Brad Keselowski in practice sent him to a backup #24 Axalta Patriotic Chevrolet.

Three minutes before airtime, the field rolled off pit road with multiple cars stopping at the exit of pit road before rejoining the pack, including Parker Kligerman, Matt Tifft, J.J. Yeley, and Gaughan. Gaughan slotted in at the back of the field, and remarked at an issue with one of the black cars in front of him. “Is that speedy dry or is that guy blowing up?” he radioed. “Guy in front of 96, that guy was a plume of smoke.” As the laps continued McLeod’s #51 and DiBenedetto’s #95 pulled to the rear, followed by Ross Chastain in the blue #27 Xchange of America Chevrolet, who pulled to the inside on the backstretch. McLeod and Haley then pulled behind Chastain just before the race went green.

On the break, McLeod held the low lane with Haley to his outside, but both were held up by Chastain, who was slow coming through the gears. Haley cleared Chastain first, leaving McLeod in last into Turn 1. As the field came around to complete the first lap, however, McLeod zipped past a slow black car to his inside. This was Quin Houff, Michigan’s last-place finisher, who was swapped into Premium Motorsports’ #15 The Elease Project Chevrolet for the first time this season. Houff immediately lost touch with the pack, and after five laps was 27.6 seconds back and losing ground quickly. The #15 was under power from what was found to be a loose plug wire, keeping him at just 175mph, several seconds off the pace.

After eight laps, race leader Joey Logano pulled the lead pack to Houff’s outside just before the start / finish line, passing him in two and three-wide formation. The final three cars on the track lapped him on the 17th go-round, followed soon after by the leaders, putting him a second lap down. The leaders caught and passed him a third time on Lap 28, this time in Turns 1 and 2. The crew called him to pit road, and on Lap 38 he came in by himself, then made a hard left turn into the first garage opening. “It fires up, but it just sputters out, like the choke's put on it,” said someone on the crew. Houff continued to lose laps as the crew worked under the hood, then fired the engine on Lap 53. He returned to the track just as Stage 1 had ended, now 18 laps down.

The race restarted on Lap 56 with Houff now mired in traffic with eight more cars behind him. This time, he managed to keep up with a three-car pack of his own led by last-place Gase and his teammate J.J. Yeley in the #52 Ford.

Suarez didn’t enter the last-place picture until Lap 84, when trouble broke out in the tri-oval. Following a restart for a tangle between Kurt Busch and Brendan Gaughan, Kevin Harvick bumped Brad Keselowski near the stripe, turning the #2 Miller Lite Ford into the outside wall. While most drivers somehow avoided the melee, Suarez steered left and sideswiped Daniel Hemric’s #8 Cessna Chevrolet, sending both cars spinning to the inside. While Suarez didn’t appear to receive serious damage, he pulled slowly down pit road with something loose on the rear of the car.

With the whole field still running, the cars involved in the accident changed positions rapidly. Hemric was ranked last when the caution fell, but passed Harvick, Keselowski, and the damaged David Ragan as he came onto pit road. This put Keselowski in last for a moment as a report came from NBC that Keselowski was done for the day and would go to the garage. The result would have been his first-ever Cup Series last-place finish, so long as Houff remained on track long enough. Instead, both Keselowski and Ragan returned to the track to log laps, preventing either from finishing in last. Only Suarez pulled into the garage, taking last from Hemric as he, too rejoined the race. First Keselowski, then Ragan pulled in under the ensuing caution after running two and three slow laps, respectively.

Back on the track, Houff remained at speed, but due to approaching weather looked like he would run out of time before he could catch Suarez. On Lap 102, when the second stage ended, Houff and Suarez were on the same lap. When another caution lap was turned, Houff passed Suarez, leaving the #41 in last. It was also Suarez' first bottom-five finish of the season. Houff would ultimately climb past both Keselowski and Ragan before the day’s biggest pileup drew the final caution of the race. Rain ultimately ended the affair with Houff 11 laps short of passing Ryan Blaney’s #12 Body Armor Ford, the lowest-ranked of those eliminated in the Turn 1 pileup.

Finding himself in the lead as lightning struck and rain fell was Justin Haley, who followed-up his runner-up finish in Friday’s XFINITY race and strong run in his Cup debut at Talladega with his first Cup win. Haley inherited the lead after leaders Kurt Busch and Landon Cassill pitted during a one lap to go signal that was then rescinded, costing both a shot at victory. The win was also the first for Spire Motorsports, the team that acquired the Charter from the shuttered Furniture Row Racing. While ineligible for the Cup Series playoffs as he’d declared for XFINITY points, Haley earned just the second-ever Cup win for the #77 in a points race, the first since August 9, 1959 by Joe Lee Johnson at the Nashville Fairgrounds.

Finishing 4th in the #13 GEICO Chevrolet was Ty Dillon, a career-best finish following a previous best of 6th in the last two points races at Daytona.

Corey LaJoie, the 2018 LASTCAR Cup Series Champion, earned a career-best 6th, his first-ever top-ten finish, in the #32 Shine Armor Ford. LaJoie’s own previous best was 11th, which came both at Talladega earlier this year and the July Daytona race two seasons ago.

Matt DiBenedetto followed-up his strong run in the Daytona 500 and career-best 4th at Sonoma with an 8th-place finish, his second Top Ten in the last three races in the #95 Procore Toyota.

Matt Tifft earned a career-best 9th in the #38 Ron Jon Surf Shop Ford, his first-ever Top Ten and improving on his previous best of 20th at Phoenix and Charlotte.

Landon Cassill’s 11th-place finish is tied for his second-best in a Cup race and is the new team-best for Derrike Cope’s team StarCom Racing, whose previous was an 18th at Las Vegas last fall.

J.J. Yeley’s #52 Ford finished 12th, his best finish since the 2013 running of this race. It also ties Justin Marks’ 12th-place run in the 2018 Daytona 500 for the best-ever Cup finish by Rick Ware Racing.

*This was the first last-place finish for Stewart-Haas Racing’s #41 team in a Cup points race. The last time the #41 finished last was April 27, 2008, when Reed Sorenson lost an engine 4 laps into the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega. The number’s only other Cup last-place finish at Daytona came on July 2, 2005, when Casey Mears’ #41 Target dodge crashed after 35 laps of the Pepsi 400.
*The 83 laps complete by Suarez are the fourth-most of a Cup Series last-place finisher of the July race at Daytona. The other three were also first-time last-placers: Andy Houston (86 laps in 2001), Chris Buescher (89 laps in 2016), and Denny Hamlin (99 laps in 2007).

40) #41-Daniel Suarez / 83 laps / crash
39) #2-Brad Keselowski / 85 laps / crash
38) #38-David Ragan / 86 laps / crash
37) #15-Quin Houff / 108 laps / running
36) #12-Ryan Blaney / 118 laps / crash / led 1 lap

1st) Rick Ware Racing (5)
2nd) Front Row Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (3)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing (2)
4th) Germain Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Childress Racing, Spire Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Ford (7)
3rd) Toyota (2)


Saturday, July 6, 2019

XFINITY: Kaulig Racing goes from podium sweep to bookending Daytona field after Allmendinger is disqualified

PHOTO: @KauligRacing
A.J. Allmendinger picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Circle K Firecracker 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #10 Cornerstone Produce Group Chevrolet finished 3rd, but was disqualified after completing 100 of the 100 laps.

The finish came in Allmendinger’s 12th series start. In the XFINITY Series last-place rankings, it was the 7th disqualification, the 71st for the #10, and the 528th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 30th disqualification, the 124th for the #10, and the 1,668th for Chevrolet.

Landon Cassill picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Friday’s Circle K Firecracker 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #4 Flex Seal / Contec Chevrolet was eliminated following an accident after 12 of 100 laps.

The finish came in Cassill’s 128th series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 19th for the #4, the 528th for Chevrolet, and the 584th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 67th for the #4, the 1,184th from a crash, and the 1,668th for Chevrolet.

Allmendinger was a rather surprising addition to Friday’s field. Last year, he ended a partnership with the JTG-Daugherty Racing team that saw him drive the #47 ever since he took over for Bobby Labonte in 2013. In that time, he’d given the team its only win at Watkins Glen in 2014, but in the next four years never won again and ranked no better than 19th in points. He was released in exchange for rookie Ryan Preece, and has since followed Labonte and Jamie McMurray into the broadcast booth. About the only mention of Allmendinger at the track has been from close friend Matt DiBenedetto, who at Sonoma credited the road course expert with his career-best 4th-place finish.

But last week came news that Allmendinger would be part of a brand-new third team fielded by Kaulig Racing. In an all-out bid to go “trophy hunting,” as team owner Matthew Kaulig put it, he would have three Chevrolets entered in Friday’s 250-miler. Full-time driver Justin Haley would remain in the flagship #11 Leaf Filter Chevrolet, looking for revenge after a yellow-line penalty cost him the win in the 2018 running of this race. Ross Chastain, one of the hottest drivers on the circuit, would debut a new third car, a #16 Chevrolet backed by Ellsworth Advisors. Allmendinger would then drive the part-time #10 effort that Chastain had split with Austin Dillon and Elliott Sadler earlier this season. Cornerstone Produce Group came on to sponsor the effort. In addition, as part of the “NASCAR Salutes” program, the windshield banner would bear the name of the 33rd Fighter Wing of the U.S. Air Force based out of Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base.

Allmendinger began the weekend as strong as he could, pacing the opening practice session by 0.118 of a second over a surprising Chris Cockrum for team owner Jeff Spraker. He then qualified best of the three Kaulig cars, starting on the front row alongside series point leader Tyler Reddick.

Up until post-race technical inspection was completed, however, it appeared that Landon Cassill would be the one to score his first XFINITY Series last-place finish, his in his 128th series start.

It was at Daytona eight years ago that Cassill earned his career-best XFINITY Series finish in dramatic fashion. At the height of the “two-car tango” era of superspeedway racing, it was Cassill in an unsponsored Phoenix Racing entry which pushed Tony Stewart to the lead, edging Clint Bowyer in a photo finish by seven-thousandths of a second. Two years later, Cassill made his first XFINITY start for Johnny Davis’ JD Motorsports, finishing 36th at Texas. Five top-ten finishes followed through the 2015 season, after which he focused on two full-time Cup Series efforts with Front Row Motorsports. He’d then find his way to StarCom Racing, where he still runs full-time for Derrike Cope.

Back on the XFINITY side, Cassill and the Davis team rejoined last September at Darlington, yielding a 14th-place finish. He also made a one-off start with Carl Long’s Motorsports Business Management, where he ran 38th in the first NASCAR race on the Charlotte Roval. He closed out the year helping owner-driver Morgan Shepherd, who was himself receiving assistance from the Davis team after a costly practice wreck in Texas. Cassill put Shepherd’s car into Round 2 of qualifying and started 24th before exiting early in a 38th-place finish.

This year, Cassill has continued to drive for both Davis and Shepherd. The Davis efforts came about following Ross Chastain’s declaration for Truck Series points, availing Chastain’s former ride in the #4 Chevrolet. His first start with the team came at Talladega, where his 9th-place finish was his best in the series since 2015. Driving for Shepherd has helped keep the #89 in the show when more than 38 cars were entered. Both times, Cassill succeeded, qualifying 13th at Charlotte and 16th at Michigan. A 19th-place finish for Davis came last week in Chicagoland, and he’d drive for Davis again in Daytona, where he’d run double-duty with his Cup ride at StarCom.

Cassill’s #4 would be one of four virtually identical red-and-gold Chevrolets fielded by JD Motorsports, all of them sponsored by the FlexSeal family of products. Joining Cassill would be the #0 Flex Tape Chevrolet of Garrett Smithley, the #15 Flex Shot Chevrolet of B.J. McLeod, and the #01 Flex Glue Chevrolet of February’s last-placer Stephen Leicht. Cassill ran 29th in the lone practice session and qualified 24th with a lap of 184.155mph (48.872 seconds). Both times, he was the fastest of the JD Motorsports foursome.

Cassill was among the 42 drivers on the preliminary entry list, a group cut to 41 earlier in the week after Jeffrey Earnhardt unexpectedly withdrew in the #81 Toyota fielded by XCI Racing. With Morgan Shepherd not entered for Cassill to drive, the other three DNQs were fellow owner-driver Mike Harmon in the #74 Chevrolet, Joey Gase in the #35 Connected Claim Services / Medic Air Systems Toyota (his first series DNQ since October 2013 at Charlotte), and Austin Hill. Hill, looking to get Shigeaki Hattori his first XFINITY start since 2015, was foiled by a drive line issue during qualifying.

Starting 38th and last was Joe Nemechek, who after running slower than the DNQs of Harmon and Gase secured the final starting spot with the Past Champions’ Provisional. During the last pace lap, Noah Gragson pulled his #9 Switch Chevrolet onto pit road due to a radio issue, but was allowed to resume his 16th-place starting spot. Nemechek then remained in last with a redundant penalty for unapproved adjustments, joined by 22nd-place starter Chris Cockrum in the #25 Advanced Communications Group Chevrolet and 32nd-place Shane Lee in the #28 Circuit City Toyota. Matt Mills also fell to the rear from the 28th spot in the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet.

Once the race started, Nemechek remained in last place, and had fallen two seconds back of 37th-place Mills after just two laps. After eight laps, Nemechek was completely by himself, more than 10 seconds back of the lead, when trouble broke out mid-pack. Caesar Bacarella qualified a strong 13th, but his #90 Fisher House Foundation / Alpha Prime Chevrolet lost control in Turn 3, triggering a multi-car pileup. In the rush to escape to the outside lane, Cassill slid up the track into the left-rear of Ray Black, Jr.’s #07 Isokern Fireplaces & Chimneys / Scuba Life Chevrolet. As Black slid to the inside, Cassill was rear-ended by another car, causing damage to the track bar. Cassill made it to pit road, only to be eliminated under the damaged vehicle policy.

Cassill remained the last-place finisher until well after the race, which saw the Kaulig Racing trio sweep the top three positions. Ross Chastain took the win followed by Justin Haley, the first NASCAR driver penalized for forcing other cars below the yellow line, with Allmendinger in 3rd after charging back from a tangle with Riley Herbst. But on early Saturday morning came news that Allmendinger’s car, the random selection for inspection, failed a vacuum test on the tapered spacer. Since the engine couldn’t hold a vacuum, NASCAR concluded the restrictor plate wasn’t able to function properly, potentially giving the team an advantage.

The disqualification lifted Cassill to 37th and bumped his teammate B.J. McLeod out of the Bottom Five. The new 36th-place finisher was Joe Nemechek, who pulled his #13 behind the wall with steering issues before the end of Stage 2. Chase Briscoe in 35th was eliminated in a hard crash on Lap 45 when his #98 Ford Performance Ford was knocked into a spin off Turn 4, sending him nose-first into the inside wall short of pit road. Sheldon Creed rounded out the Bottom Five, his #8 Chevrolet Accessories Chevrolet damaged early on, then finished off in one of the night’s biggest wrecks after 73 laps.

Allmendinger’s disqualification, combined with several accidents, filled the 5th through 12th finishing positions with several career runs for the series’ underdogs.

Cassill’s teammate Stephen Leicht finished best of his group in 5th, the driver’s first top-five finish since the 2007 finale at Homestead, when he was a development driver for Yates Racing.

Brandon Brown earned a career-best 6th, climbing from 33rd on the grid with significant damage to the nose of his marine green #86 Chevrolet. His previous best was three 13th-place runs earlier this year at Atlanta, Dover, and Pocono.

Jeff Green, just one week from his last race of the season, steered his #38 Larry’s Hard Lemonade Chevrolet from the last car on the lead lap on the final restart to 7th at the finish, matching his run in February’s Daytona race.

Gray Gaulding narrowly avoided serious damage in the final pileup to finish 8th in the #08 Worldwide Safety Consulting Services Chevrolet, backing up his runner-up finish at Talladega.

Jeremy Clements earned his first top-ten finish of the season after starting 37th in the #51 Chevrolet.

B.J. McLeod’s three cars finished 10th, 11th, and 12th with Matt Mills leading the way, earning his first career top-ten finish. Vinnie Miller finished 11th, a career-best of his own after no finishes better than 17th twice last year at Talladega and Indianapolis. Rounding out the group was Stefan Parsons, a last-minute replacement for an ill Cody Ware in the #99 Jacob Companies Toyota. Making his first XFINITY Series start, Parsons overcame significant damage to the nose to round out the trio.

While many of these drivers benefited from surviving late-race attrition, one of their group threatened to do even better. Timmy Hill gained a lot of attention during the broadcast in his #66 VSI Racing / Overkill Motorsports Toyota that was painted last week in Carl Long’s Motorsports Business Management shop. The car turned out to be as fast as it looked, hanging in the Top 10 all night and running as high as third at one point. But a backstretch pileup sent him crashing into the rear of Noah Gragson, leaving him a disappointing 20th. All three of Hill’s top-ten finishes in the XFINITY Series have all come at Daytona, including a career-best 7th in 2012 and 2018.

*This marked the first XFINITY Series last-place finish for car #10 since November 19, 2016, when Matt DiBenedetto finished last at Homestead after a vibration 2 laps into the Ford EcoBoost 300. The number hadn’t finished last in an XFINITY race at Daytona since February 23, 2013 by Jeff Green.
*This marked the first time a driver was classified last in an XFINITY race at Daytona by disqualification.
*This was also the first disqualification for the #10 in any of NASCAR’s top three series.
*Combined with Christopher Bell’s disqualification last week in Chicagoland, this marks the first back-to-back last-place finishers by disqualification in any of NASCAR’s top three series since June 1958. During that Cup season in the 22nd and 23rd races, Bennie Rakestraw was docked from 8th at the Columbia (South Carolina) Speedway on June 5, followed by Emory Mahan as the lowest of three disqualifications in a 150-lapper at New Bradford (Pennsylvania) Speedway. The reason for both disqualifications has not yet been uncovered.

38) #10-A.J. Allmendinger / 100 laps / running / led 33 laps
37) #4-Landon Cassill / 12 laps / crash
36) #13-Joe Nemechek / 39 laps / steering
35) #98-Chase Briscoe / 44 laps / crash
34) #8-Sheldon Creed / 71 laps / crash

1st) Motorsports Business Management (5)
2nd) RSS Racing (4)
3rd) DGM Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing (2)
4th) JD Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Toyota (7)


Thursday, July 4, 2019

PREVIEW: Fireworks in store at Daytona thanks to two stacked entry lists

PHOTO: @JoeyGaseRacing
Friday, July 5, 2019
XFINITY Race 16 of 33
Circle K Firecracker 250 at Daytona
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Josh Bilicki

There were 42 drivers entered in Friday’s return to Daytona, but by Wednesday that list shrank to 41, meaning three drivers will miss the show.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-JR Motorsports
Welcome back Sheldon Creed, who hasn’t made an XFINITY Series start since a pair of runs with JD Motorsports in 2017 with a best finish of 34th at Mid-Ohio. Now a Truck Series regular with GMS Racing since last fall, Creed returns to the circuit in the fleet JR Motorsports machine sponsored by Chevrolet Accessories. He takes the place of Zane Smith, who ran 17th in Chicagoland.

DRIVER CHANGE: #10-Kaulig Racing
NEW TEAM: #16-Kaulig Racing
Matthew Kaulig’s team expands from two to three cars for the first time ever, debuting a new #16 Chevrolet sponsored by Ellsworth Advisors. Ross Chastain will drive this new car in place of his familiar part-time effort in the #10. The #10 will instead go to a returning A.J. Allmendinger, absent from NASCAR’s top three series since his tenure with JTG-Daugherty Racing ended at the close of last season. Allmendinger’s #10 will be sponsored by Cornerstone Produce Group.

MISSING: #12-Penske Racing
Not making the trip to Florida is Penske Racing’s #12 team, which Joey Logano steered to a runner-up finish in Chicagoland.

MISSING: #17-Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware has elected not to enter his XFINITY Series car this week, a car previously entered with Bayley Currey at Chicagoland before Josh Bilicki took over after his DNQ with RSS Racing. Bilicki was slated to return to RSS in the #38 with Green in the #93 with backing from Ziegler Auto Group. That changed by Tuesday as Scott Lagasse, Jr. will run the sponsored #93 with Green taking Bilicki’s place in the unsponsored #38. Bilicki tweeted he will not be racing due to a lack of sponsorship. C2 Freight Resoruces, one of Green’s past sponsors, will instead back Ryan Sieg’s flagship #39.

RETURNING: #21-Richard Childress Racing
Now fifth in the ARCA Menards Series standings after Chicagoland, Joe Graf, Jr. will attempt his second XFINITY Series start in the #21 Eat, Sleep, Race Chevrolet. Graf finished 19th his last time out at Iowa following a DNQ at Michigan.

RETURNING: #25-ACG Motorsports
After running Rick Ware’s #17 at both this season’s previous restrictor plate races with a 31st at Daytona and a career-best 10th at Talladega, Chris Cokrum will reunite with Jeff Spraker in fielding a #25. As in Cockrum’s previous superspeedway starts, Advanced Communications Group will back the effort.

DRIVER SWAP: #35-Motorsports Business Management
DRIVER SWAP: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Timmy Hill and Joey Gase have swapped rides at MBM. Hill will drive a hand-painted #35 Toyota Supra while Gase will run Hill’s former #66. Both cars will be sponsored by VSI Racing and Overkill Motorsports.

TEAM UPDATE: #42-Motorsports Business Management
Brian Keselowski tweeted on Tuesday that he has parted ways with MBM. Doug Richert will take over crew chief duties for driver Chad Finchum.

NEW TEAM: #61-Hattori Racing Enterprises
For the first time since November 14, 2015, when Ross Kenseth finished 33rd at Phoenix, Shigeaki Hattori will field an XFINITY Series entry. As leaked in a Japanese newspaper earlier this summer, the car will be #61 with sponsorship from AISIN Group. Hattori’s current Truck Series driver Austin Hill, who seeks his XFINITY Series debut at the track he won in Trucks this past February. The last time Hattori fielded an XFINITY car in the July race at Daytona in 2014, Johnny Sauter steered it to a 15th-place finish.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Mike Harmon returns to his familiar #74 in place of Camden Murphy, who finished 31st in Chicagoland.

WITHDREW: #81-XCI Racing
A surprising turn of events came Wednesday when Jeffrey Earnhardt tweeted he would not be running the XCI Racing entry this Friday. The team had withdrawn, dropping the entry list from 42 to 41.

MISSING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Morgan Shepherd has not been entered in this weekend’s race following a DNQ in Chicagoland. Shepherd also didn’t field a car in this season’s prior two plate races at Daytona and Talladega.

The last time Caesar Bacarella raced at Daytona, he qualified 12th this past February and nearly scored a career-best top-ten finish before he slapped the wall late, leaving him 29th. This time, he is back with added sponsorship from the Fisher House Foundation in addition to existing sponsorship from Alpha Prime. Bacarella takes the place of Ronnie Bassett, Jr., 30th in Chicagoland.

DRIVER CHANGE: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Friday will see Cody Ware back behind the wheel of a NASCAR stock car for the first time since he suffered carbon monoxide poisoning two weeks ago in Sonoma. This time, he drives the #99 fielded by B.J. McLeod, taking the place of Chicagoland 28th-place finisher Tommy Joe Martins. Jacob Companies follows Ware from his Cup ride to this XFINITY effort. Ware finished 21st in his only previous XFINITY start this season, again driving this car, at Talladega. UPDATE: Ware will not be driving the car as Stefan Parsons was brought on on his place Thursday. Parsons will thus attempt his XFINITY Series debut.

CUP INVADERS: #4-Landon Cassill, #16-Ross Chastain, #66-Joey Gase

Saturday, July 6, 2019
CUP Race 18 of 36
Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Ryan Blaney

For the first time since the Coca-Cola 600 and for just the fifth time in eighteen races this season, there will be a 40-car field in the Cup Series. Exactly 40 drivers are entered, so all will qualify.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #27-Premium Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
All three of the Jay Robinson entries – including team partners at Spire Motorsports – will have different drivers behind the wheel. The preliminary entry list showed Garrett Smithley in Ross Chastain’s place behind the wheel of the #15 with Reed Sorenson in the #27 and Justin Haley returning to the #77 for the first time since Sonoma. By Tuesday, Haley was still in the #77, but Smithley was replaced by Quin Houff in the #15 backed by The Elease Project and Sorenson by Chastain in the #27 with Xchange of America as sponsor. Haley, again backed by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, looks to follow-up his strong Cup debut at Talladega and avenge his yellow-line penalty in last summer’s XFINITY race here. Chastain looks to follow-up his first Cup Series top-ten finish in this year’s Daytona 500, and will do so in the car that finished last that night with Casey Mears. Houff looks to come back from his first last-place finish by making his first laps in a car other than Spire’s #77.

DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Rick Ware Racing
As announced a couple weeks back, J.J. Yeley will drive the #52 in the first of a multi-race sponsorship deal with Yeley takes over for Bayley Currey, who ran 32nd last week in Chicagoland. Yeley has seven previous starts in the Coke Zero Sugar 400, including an event-best 13th in 2013 and an 18th for BK Racing just last year.

DRIVER CHANGE: #53-Rick Ware Racing
Joey Gase goes double-duty this weekend as he becomes the third driver in as many points races to run Rick Ware’s new #53 car. Sponsorship on the red-white-and-blue Chevrolet comes from Connected Claim Services and Action Restoration. Gase takes the place of Josh Bilicki, who ran 33rd last week in Chicagoland.

RETURNING: #62-Beard Motorsports
Superspeedways mean the return of Brendan Gaughan and the Beard team, who again have two black-and-white Chevrolets ready for action. Earlier this year, Gaughan finished 23rd in the Daytona 500 following a late-race crash, then recovered to finish a strong 8th at Talladega, leading five laps. Gaughan’s best finish in a Cup race at Daytona was one better – a 7th in this race two years ago.

RETURNING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
Also returning is Parker Kligerman and his TRD 40th Anniversary scheme from his most recent start at Sonoma. Kligerman has yet to start the July race at Daytona, but has finishes of 29th and 15th in his two Daytona 500 starts.

Thursday, July 11, 2019
TRUCKS Race 13 of 23
Kentucky 225 at Kentucky
2018 Last-Place Finisher: Tyler Matthews

The Truck Series takes the week off and will return next week in Kentucky.

Today in LASTCAR history (July 4, 1985): Rusty Wallace picks up the first last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in the Pepsi Firecracker 400 at Daytona after his #2 Alugard Pontiac lost an engine after just two laps. Rusty, who was competing in just his second full season at the time, was driving for Cliff Stewart, who happened to field the #2 the driver would later make famous with Penske Racing. This was the very same race that saw Greg Sacks pull off one of the sport’s biggest upsets, steering DiGard Racing’s research and development car to a 23.5-second margin of victory. It was Sacks’ 41st series start.